We've all been trained to think that hands-free devices are the safe option for using your cellphone when you are driving the car. They have to work, right? After all, since it's a hands-free device, we can keep our hands on the steering wheel and our eyes on the road. Therefore we are not distracted. It's a perfect world! The driver is able to get all of his or her texting and phone calls done, and the road doesn't become any less safe.
However, it appears that this line of thinking is more myth than reality. A recent report by the National Safety Council (NSC) says that using hands-free devices still leaves a driver distracted, and it points to more than 30 studies that have shown handheld devices are just as safe as hands-free devices. In other words, those headsets or that dashboard monitor won't save you from being a distracted driver if you use them to text or make a phone call.
In California, it is illegal to send an electronic text while driving. Any offenders are hit with a small fine. But the question here isn't just "why is California's texting ban so weak?" It is "why are we being told there is a 'safer' alternative to handheld devices when there really isn't?"
Whether there is a legitimate answer to that question is for other people to figure out, but in the meantime, the NSC report makes it clear that the human brain is not meant to multi-task. Doing more than one thing inherently means that a person will be less able to perform the tasks. In the context of driving, that means a distracted driver.
Source: Insurance Journal, "Why Hands-Free Cell Phones Are Not Safer: Safety Council," April 15, 2014
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